Recipe: 10-Minute Mussels

Like a lot of humble working-class fare in recent years, moules frites has been elevated to bistros and fancy dining rooms. At NYC’s Flex Mussels, 17 different versions of the classic Belgian dish anchor the menu, for $18 (classic) to $21 (“Maine”: w/ lobster, smoked bacon, corn, white chowder, parsley). I much prefer to make mussels at home because I don’t feel like choosing between paying $20 for mussels (seriously, they’re only $3.99/lb. at Whole Foods), or getting food poisoning at a less reputable establishment. Fortunately, they’re incredibly easy to make. Here’s a simple recipe that takes less than 10 minutes from beginning to end, and tastes great!

Ingredients:

1 lb. Mussels (per person)

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 Andouille or Chorizo sausage, sliced

1/2 bunch Parsley, chopped roughly

2 tbsp. Butter

1 cup White Wine or Dry Vermouth

.

Instructions:

1) Clean your mussels by scrubbing them under cold water, and pulling off the “beards”. There are only two things to know about eating mussels safely: (a) Don’t buy/use any raw mussels that are already opened. Ask the fish monger to sort them out if you’re buying by the pound. (b) Don’t eat any cooked mussels that haven’t opened. Do not force them open.
2) Heat a pot with a lid, preferably a clear lid. Add butter to hot pot. Add sausage, and cook through. The sausage is obviously optional, though I think it enriches the broth and gives it a bit of a smokey flavor. You can leave it out, but in that case I might add a diced shallot. Add garlic, brown.
3) Add cleaned mussels. Quickly sprinkle some salt (not too much, the mussels are naturally salty from the sea), and pepper. Add chopped parsley and splash over white wine. Cover quickly with lid.
4) While holding down the lid, vigorously shake the pot back and forth to turn over the mussels. Once the mussels open from the steaming, they are cooked–this took 90 seconds for 1 lb; I can’t imagine it taking more than 3-4 min. even for larger portions. Some recipes say 8-10 minutes… but that will completely overcook them. Live dangerously, I say.
5) Portion mussels into bowls, remember to throw out unopened mussels. Pour over broth, and mop it up with warm, crusty bread!
Advertisements

Restaurant Review: Co. (NYC)

Several weeks ago, I went to Co. for the second time. Apparently it is pronounced “company” but I find this confusing and a little pretentious. Apologies in advance for the quality of the photographs; I had forgotten my camera so we used a cell phone.

"Popeye", with pecorino, gruyère, mozzarella, spinach, black pepper, and garlic.

This upscale pizza restaurant is located in Chelsea, just blocks away from Upright Citizens Brigade, making it a solid date night restaurant. It’s also, incidentally, directly across the street from my once-favorite Chinese restaurant in the city–Grand Szechuan–which was displaced by Sichuan Gourmet. The chef-owner is Jim Lahey, champion of “no-knead bread”. His bread recipes have been written about by Mark Bittman, served up at Jean-Georges (an investor in Co.) and Marea, and raved about by none other than Stone Soup co-author Josh Morrison.

The decor of the restaurant is casual and relaxing. Long, wooden communal tables stretch across the dining room, with rows hanging lamps directing their light downward, right at the pizza to be placed below. A few tables line the walls, but I found it more fun to sit at the communal table, which seemed to bridge the boundary between a fine dining establishment and the informality of a pizza parlor. The wood and stainless steel and little else made the room seem modern rustic in the clean and sparsely-furnished sort of way, like a cross between Peter Luger and Aquavit. All of this prepares you for a somewhat revolutionary experience–this isn’t your local Brooklyn pizza.

The thing to get here is obviously the pizza. The dough is prominently featured, as advertised. It is thin, light, with huge air-pockets. The outer edges are crunchy and charred from the intense heat (900 degrees F) of the wood-burning oven that home cooks simply cannot replicate, no matter how conductive their pizza stones may be. Despite being barren of toppings, the crust itself was salty, and a little sour-doughy. Needless to say, I didn’t discard it like oil boom-grade Domino’s crust. The dough under the toppings, on the other hand, mopped up the liquids from the toppings well, particularly the nectar leaking out of the roasted cherry tomatoes.

Special of the day: mozzarella, basil, roasted cherry tomatoes, chili, and corn meal.

Though most of the hoopla is focused on the dough, I thought the toppings were extraordinary. I’m customarily a meat-eater, and when I go out to restaurants, I don’t stick with salads. My first trip to Co. with three other omnivores and one vegetarian, I dutifully requested the “Boscaiola”, with tomato, mozzarella, pork sausage, mushroom, onion, and chili. On the suggestion of an episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, however, I also recommended the “Popeye” with pecorino, gruyère, mozzarella, spinach, black pepper, and garlic. It was revelatory. I hate cooked spinach normally, finding it slimy, stringy, and bitter. But this spinach had been scorched by a 900 degree oven. The edges of the leaves were blackened and crispy, and the heat seemed to have released the Platonic essence of spinach flavor, free from the disgusting texture and tongue-parching quality it normally has. The cheeses complimented the spinach perfectly. The black pepper were crushed larger and coarser than normal, so it provided a surprising toothsome crunch to the odd bite. I thought the some of the garlic pieces we a little large for my taste, but it didn’t stop me from ordering the Popeye at my second visit. At that visit, my friend ordered their special pizza of the day, which had mozzarella, basil, roasted cherry tomatoes, chili, and (interestingly) corn meal. The concept of using corn meal as a base, in lieu of a tomato sauce, actually worked terrifically, and I would get it again if it were available. The toppings were so good that I remarked to my vegetarian friend that I could see myself converting… if I could eat Co.-quality pizza every day.

Quick note about a salad we ordered. It was delicious, and simple enough to try to replicate at home. In fact, it’s going with the escarole-gruyere-citrus idea I stole from Union Sq. Cafe in David’s Book/Pamphlet/Short List of 2 Salad Recipes. This Co. salad was shaved strips of zucchini (I think it was raw), dressed with a simple lemon-olive oil vinaigrette, black pepper, coarsely ground sea salt, basil, shaved parmesan, and mint (a masterful addition). Great alternative to the leafy salad variety, and the best part was that the zucchini held up better than a poor lettuce leaf against absorption of the vinaigrette, and retained most of its crunchiness. A sure winner for any dinner party.

The service was terrific. The server was incredibly friendly and polite. One when reaching over to clear a plate, he accidentally brushed against my shoulder. And by brushed, I mean there may have been the barest contact between his shirt sleeve and the fabric of my shirt by my shoulder. He immediately swung over and apologized in a courteous, but not embarrassing manner. At my first visit, the server was able to squeeze in two extra pizza orders during a busy dinner service when we realized that our initial order was insufficient, and she/the kitchen ensured its timely arrival before we had finished the first two pizzas. The standard of good service remains water service, and here Co. has a good system in place. Your water is filled from a carafe, and the carafe is left on the table. Instead of a small carafe that merely held the volume of the already-poured water and scantly a few milliliters more, this carafe was well capable of filling our glasses again. And what’s more, full carafes of water were left on the table, finally answering the eternal custom of leaving a nearly empty carafe with an obvious solution–don’t. Of course, the server also stopped by frequently to top off our water glasses, and I never had a moment where had to search out some hapless busboy with a needy look.

Having sampled NYC’s artisanal pizza scene (Motorino, Otto, Artichoke), its old guard landmarks (Grimaldi’s, Patsy’s), and its everyday NYC standbys (Koronet’s, the generic place that Louie C.K. scarfs down a slice at, half-a-dozen random places with “Best Slice in New York” signs, and the pinnacle of authenticity–Famiglia’s), and even some healthy challengers from up in Boston (Emma’s in Cambridge), I’m confident in voting for Co. as my favorite pizza spot. Go, and get the spinach pie. It’ll make your taste buds bulge like its namesake’s muscles.

Co.: 4 / 5

230 Ninth Avenue (and 24th Street)
New York, NY

Recipe: The Best Braised Short Ribs, with Coffee and Chili.

Coffee and Chili Braised Short Ribs

Braised short ribs are probably my favorite thing to make for people I love (if I’ve made this for you, you know I care). Short ribs are beef, and they are literally the “short” ribs located at the end of the rib cage, the ones closest to the tail end of the cow. A braise is simply  a way of slowly cooking something, usually a tougher cut of meat, at a lower-than-normal temperature.

It’s a dish that’s fancy enough to impress dinner guests, and yet surprisingly easy to prepare, given a simple willingness to invest the time. They’re popular at nice restaurants these days as a cheap cut of meat that can be turned into a delicious, tender product (much like skirt steak or lamb shank). Personally I think there’s something deeply romantic about a long, slow braise. It brings to mind the days of yore when our great-great-grandparents would stew a peasant’s portion of meat for Sunday supper, throwing in whatever vegetables could be harvested from the garden. In that manner, it’s a perfect Stone Soup recipe! The braising liquid becomes enriched by the beef, the vegetables, the herbs, the wine, and other ingredients you add to become a perfect sauce for the short ribs later. And the ribs themselves are so tender, fork tender, that they melt in your mouth. Luxurious, spicy, smoky, tender beef… is there anything more sexy than that?

Braised short ribs can be customized however you want, and this particular recipe was cobbled together from so many versions that I won’t bother hunting them down again and linking them all, except to nod in Mark Bittman’s general direction. Here are the ingredients:

Continue reading

Recipe: Dragonfruit sushi

One hallmark of today’s greatest chefs–e.g. Thomas Keller of Per Se and The French Laundry, Ferran Adria of El Bulli, Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck–is their devotion to molecular gastronomy, which uses a knowledge of chemistry and the scientific processes involved in cooking and curing to make their dishes otherworldly and astounding. Perhaps the most common example of this is when molecular gastronomists use liquid nitrogen to make ice cream; the extreme cold of liquid nitrogen, much colder than ice, allows for a rapid freeze. The fast freeze keeps the fat particles small and prevents ice crystals from forming, for extra creaminess. Another is the now-popular sous-vide method of cooking, where a thermal cycler keeps a water bath at an item’s ideal, perfect cooking temperature, so you can get a piece of steak, poaching in a vacuum sealed bag, where not a single bit is overcooked and everywhere is tender.

Molecular gastronomists use their new cooking techniques, borrowed from science, to make new and interesting concoctions. This increased latitude of possibility enables them to let their imaginations run wild. Thus we get Thomas Keller’s signature “Oysters and Pearls“, Adria’s surprising “Olivas Sfericas“, and this “Carrot and Orange Lolly” from Blumenthal. These ideas are playful; they take a familiar dishes or food items and add new spins to make them unforgettable. They trick your eyes into seeing a green globe as an olive, but when it’s placed in your mouth, the outer layer breaks apart to release an intense flavor of olive oil. Molecular gastronomy seems to go hand in hand with a new take on food that’s fun, and joking. Sometimes you don’t even need the gadgets and chemicals to make an interesting dish, just a sense of humor, some creativity, and a willingness to experiment!

Ferran Adria did an interview with a NYTimes journalist several years ago, and his dinner gave me an idea for a play on one of my favorite foods–sushi–that you can also easily make at home and surprise some friends!

All I used were 1) dragonfruit, 2) some tomatoes, 3) and some oranges. Dragonfruit is a fruit you can often find in Chinatown. In Chinese, it’s called huo long guo, or fire dragon fruit. Despite a boldly colorful exterior with vivid purples and greens, the inside is shockingly spartan: blank, white flesh and small black seeds, like kiwi seeds. The taste is extremely mild; it has the texture of eating watermelon and about as much flavor as one of those unripe, more thirst-quenching than sugary melons.

Since we’re making a play on sushi, we slice the white-fleshed dragonfruit into slabs, like dominoes. They represent the rice. Next we peel the skin off of the tomatoes (if you’re dextrous and the skin comes off easily, with your fingers, and if not, very carefully with a knife). You want to preserve as much as possible of the deeply red tomato flesh just under the skin. Cut slices of the tomato, and place it on the dragonfruit slabs: that’s tuna sushi! I made a balsamic and olive oil mixture that I dabbed under the “tuna sushi” to resemble soy sauce, and to give it a bit of extra flavor. Next, suprème the orange so you don’t get any pith (the white membrane). Stand the orange up, slice down the sides to remove only the peel and pith, and then cut wedges. These represent salmon sushi. You can probably experiment with a lot of different fruits and “sushi”; I didn’t think the orange worked well because it didn’t look enough like salmon. Maybe next time I’ll try papaya for salmon, roasted sweet plantain/banana for eel, and lychee for scallop.

What other fruit/fish analogues do you think would work well?